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The South by Southwest music conference released the bees Wednesday with a wealth of strong performances, The MTVU Woodies, breezy and overcast weather, and a student-heavy army of cheerful volunteers and the pamphlets they love. But the spiraling lines for daytime events stole the show. South by 2011: The Year of the Free Swag Meltdown.
Keep tweeting on the devil’s door and sooner or later, everyone’s going to answer. Within 20 minutes, 4,000-plus people texted Vevo to 67463 to secure a bid at Saturday’s after- hours Kanye West concert. Over 20,000 people registered online for the Fiat Fader Fort; the wristband-pickup line—-winding around the East Austin campgrounds, pouring onto I-35—-reflected the numbers, and the result was a three-hour dent in your day. Beauty Bar holds maybe 300 people, and at least that many credentialed conference attendees and fans spent midday outside, waiting for an indie rocker whose Wikipedia page lacks a picture.
Even the well-executed but under-the-radar DC Does Texas party at Lovejoy’s tapped its Dogfish kegs early. This sucked, because over the years festivalgoers have evolved into entitled party people—-savagely prioritizing free drinks over art. Over kick-ass, folky punk rock.
“Hey what are y’all called, The Typewriters?”
“No, it’s Typefighter,” responded Typefighter singer Ryan McLaughlin. “You know like a typewriter, but more violent.”
The interrupting, gruffly posed question meant well. Its asker responded favorably to “Frank Sinatra,” the first song from the D.C. band’s solid new EP, which Typefighter was selling before its March 27 release party to help fund their 16-date DIY tour’s van problems.
“I don’t know why you’re laughing,” McLaughlin said. “We’re having terrible van problems.”
The band is touring with guitarist Brandon Moses, on loan from D.C.’s Laughing Man. Thing is, Typefighter’s original guitarist was able to make it after all, and the pair spent the Lovejoy’s set rocking out on overlapping parts. It was enthusiastic and exciting. Two-year-old songs like “Ocean Floor” were skin tight and powerful.
Afterwards, Arts Desk strolled down Red River to Club DeVille to see Tennis. Tennis is like an uninteresting Beach House with more attractive people; there was a distinct girl-group sound live that doesn’t translate on skimmed mp3s, and that’s unfortunate. Portland’s Unknown Mortal Orchestra was next. It had braids, denim jackets, Ray-Bans, and beyond the pastiche a sludgy, nerdy, soulful sound.
Back at Lovejoy’s, The Caribbean began its week of gigs and tore into its well-received new album, Discontinued Perfume. A crew of veterans with wedding rings and graying hair, the band creates exemplary indie rock. Singer Michael Kentoff represented in an Alex Ovechkin tee, speaking low and awkwardly between numbers. “This next song is about collapsing a double life into a single life.”
Austin’s White Denim brought a decided home-field advantage to its gig at The Parish shortly after. Their product is a meeting of soul and garage punk, with lots of proggy jamming from two ax men. Friends and family cheered, and a terrible father stood at the front with his baby donning Drew Brees earphones. White Denim stuck to new stuff, presumably from upcoming May release D, but the crowd went wild when they dusted off “Shake Shake Shake.”
After a $20 cheeseburger and Miller Lite combo, it was time to herd into the MTVU Woodies. For a more savory experience, Arts Desk entered with a casting call ticket. This meant waiting in an adjacent parking lot for three hours, and eventually being herded onto the floor of the awards ceremony at the renovated Austin Music Hall. Arts Desk was with childhood friend Conor, who was wearing a red shirt and red bandana and looked like a Real World Road Rules Challenge castaway. He fit right into the laid-back Austin groove of the crowd; this became significant when two dudes and their sister offered Conor weed to cut. Turned out they are also Mexicans that were raised in South Austin.
The cutting proves costly as Arts Desk and Conor were herded into separate tribes; the friendly Mexicanos were the cutoff. The good news was that this morning, Arts Desk received a text from Conor, and he eventually made it home.
At the awards, Donald Glover told one good joke, Lil B staged a reverse award coup when Kanye West beat him (West was not in the house, so the moment lost something when B took the hardware from Pete Wentz). Loyalist Texans faced an existential crisis when asked to wave black and yellow towels during Wiz Khalifa’s runner-up Steelers anthem, “Black and Yellow.” The Foo Fighters opened the live telecast, and the most cynical of onlookers rejoiced seeing ’90s guitarist Pat Smear back in the Foo fold. The Foo Fighters left immediately after. Aziz Ansari introduced Odd Future and the teenage collective failed to recreate its Fallon magic. Sleigh Bells was loud, bass-heavy, and wonderful. Their moment exploded when they were inexplicably joined by the Prairie View A&M drum line. H-Town in the house.
After the Woodies, Arts Desk checked off a pair of buzz hip-hoppers across town at the Mohawk. Mississippi’s Big K.R.I.T. jolted a crowd while an excellent, portly hype man attacked cadences. K.R.I.T. is a C+ lyricist, an A- producer, but an A songwriter, and sticky cuts like “Country Shit” and “Hometown Hero” rallied hands in the air. Smoke DZA and Curren$y joined him for memorable guest spots; a huge amount of white teenagers knew the words to “Moon and Stars.” Cyphi Da Prynce arrived jet-lagged and vanilla. Cyphi likewise performed his verse from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy two songs into his set, and patrons filed out en masse immediately after. Entirely his bad, though it was a poetic way to conclude a day that was, for the most part, fuckin’ ridiculous.
Famous People Gossip: Arts Desk ran into Andrew W.K. at press registration; he’s a 2011 panelist. He was dressed like you’d expect. Jack White rocked a two-song set that included a Buddy Holly cover at noon on the corner of 4th and Colorado. He’s in town cheerleading his Third Man Records brand. Justin Vernon crashed the Jagjaguwar Showcase and performed in the early evening with his weird, ironic ‘80s soft rock band Gayngs. Arts Desk didn’t get into Duran Duran at Stubb’s either.